China’s primary space contractor plans to send aloft at least 140 spacecraft in more than 50 launches this year, and to finish work on the Tiangong space station, following a record-breaking 2021 that featured 48 successful launches.
The state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation ( plans six launches during the year to work on Tiangong, including two launches in the second half of the year to deliver two 22-ton modules that will connect to the Tianhe core module, which is already in orbit, the company said in an annual report released Wednesday, SpaceNews reported.
China has already conducted two launches this year, including the January 16 launch of Shiyan-13, a satellite used to carry out what the China National Space Administration described as “space environment detection and related technology experiments.”
The Shenzhou-14 spacecraft is scheduled to launch in May, carrying a crew of three to relieve the current crew of the Tianhe core module and prepare for the arrival of the two new modules that will complete the Tiangong space station.
Private launch firm Landspace plans to launch the Zhuque-2, a newly developed methane-fueled rocket, in the first quarter of 2022 following about two years of pandemic-related delays, SpaceNews reported.
China is also developing a secret space plane, the Associated Press reported.
China, the third country to put a person in space, has recently stepped up its space program, with 207 successful launches from 2016 to 2021, more than doubling figures for the previous five years. In 2021, China completed 55 launches, including 48 by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, not including reported tests of nuclear-capable hypersonic orbital vehicles. In January, it was one of three Chinese companies hit with sanctions by the United States, which accused them of proliferating missile technology. In a January 28 white paper, the China National Space Administration outlined plans to carry out manned lunar landings in the next five years.
Tiangong-1, a predecessor of the current Tiangong space station, featured prominently in the 2013 movie Gravity, in which Sandra Bullock’s character uses a capsule from the station to return to Earth, escaping a destructive cascade of space debris.